Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Are Personal Assistants Born And Not Made?

I often tell people that I don't know that you can teach someone to be a great personal assistant. You can instruct someone in the basic mechanics of what you need to do, but I do think some parts of being good at this kind of job are more innate. I recently discovered that the super talented writer Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Coraline, etc.) has a great personal assistant that's on Twitter named Lorraine. I then found out about a two famous blog posts she had done that are hysterically funny, but also really pull back the curtain on what the job can be like for someone who is really famous and insanely busy. Check out the two posts:

A Day In The Life Of A Personal Assistant

The Top Ten Things Never To Send Your Favorite Writer

She also has her own blog that's interesting and fun to read. If you're into his books, her boss is also on twitter.

Her posts made me really reflect on what job can be like and what skills are required to handle it that might be useful to know about (even if you don't possess them innately). Here's a few tips I came up with:

1) Be flexible and prepared to change course in a flash.

If you can't perfect this art, you'll be crushed within moments of trying to do the job of a personal assistant. I've worked for a bunch of celebs and multiple high profile execs in the silicon valley and this is true across the board for all of them.

2) Be creative with all that you do (gift giving ideas, solutions, etc.).

When you have to give a gift to another celeb who has everything or to a soon to be Governor (which I once had to help my boss do) or get a reservation at a restaurant (that's impossible to get into without calling weeks ahead even if you are famous) for that night because your boss wants to go (which I once had to do), you have to be able to think on your feet and come up with solutions that will WOW your boss, the recipient of the gift and the hostess who you are trying to win over. If you can't think outside of the box and easily take no for an answer, this job isn't for you.

3) Be on top of what's going on at all times.

You ALWAYS need to be thinking ahead and putting out fires before they start when you're a personal assistant. You need to see the problems coming or do all the prep work and double checking you can, so that things don't get screwed up. It can never hurt to double check a car service booking or make sure that your boss indeed did get up to call a reporter at 6 AM, etc. The mantra for this type of job is always better safe than sorry.

4) Be detailed and thorough with everything.

When your boss goes on a trip and has multiple interviews, a performance and then a fancy charity benefit, you can't just hand him/her some basic half-assed attempt at an itinerary and expect that all will turn out great. You need to make sure that you include confirmation numbers, phone numbers and a few extra little pointers (directions, etc.), so that things will hopefully go smoothly. Also, never be secure that just the paper and/or notes on a calendar with ensure that your boss does what he/she is supposed to do on a particular day - remind them even if it might annoy them, as they will always appreciate it in the end. Also, be detailed in your own notes. You never KNOW when you will need to refer to them and you always end up needing a piece of information that seemed trivial at the time. I went on at length in this other post about how I stay organized.

I hope that's helpful if being a personal assistant is something you want to do. The job is definitely not for the faint of heart. It can be really fun and interesting at times and you do get to meet and be a part of things you might never have been exposed to when you do this for a living, but it's HARD work. Anyone who tells you different, is lying.

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